who is our art for?


Popping in quickly because I just read a provocative essay on art. Zach Franzen, a professional illustrator, connects the idea of hospitality with the idea of holy imagination (and by extension, “good” art). Here’s a little bit of what he says:

Hospitality as an artistic goal collides directly and forcefully with the cult of self-expression. … By contrast, the cult of self-expression exalts in “mine” more than it exalts in “good.” Its adherents do not create art to serve others. Rather, it suggests that art and others bend to the artist.

Treating self-expression as the goal of art sanctifies the personal in a way that’s bad. It encourages students to work on explanation rather than craft and discourages them from seeking common ground with the viewer.

He goes on to use an example from contemporary art: A rumpled bed sold for 2.5 million pounds (!). The artist laid in the bed during a bout of depression, so it was covered in soiled sheets, tissues, and other icons of melancholy. Why is this art? Someone asked her. “Because I say it is,” she replied.

Franzen says there’s no room for this as Christian artists of any kind. He says this type of artistry demands the viewer serve the artist. It would be like a host serving a plate of salt to a guest and saying, “This is a good meal because I say it is.” (You really should read the whole essay for more context.)

The money quote for me:

Art should serve, and Christian artists should serve in a way that’s full of both grace and truth.

Think about it. What’s more hospitable than displaying the beauty of truth?

So two questions:

1. Should art serve? Is that the end goal of art? Who determines the end goal?

2. Who should art be for? The artist or the viewer? Can it be for both and what would that look like?

Ok, that was more than two, and I’m nowhere near having the answers. I wonder if there’s something to defining whether a finished artwork is about changing the viewer, changing the artist, or merely having produced something. I’m chewing on it and would love to hear your thoughts.



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